2014 Audi R8 first drive
Audi's performance flagship gets its first major refresh in eight years
Rimini, Italy — Messing with success can be a scary ordeal for designers. Imagine an architect asked to do a makeover of Toronto's CN Tower or an industrial designer given the job of designing the next Apple iPhone? Egad. Talk about pressure.
The same anxiety must have filled Audi's product design studios when it came time for the German automaker to update its successful R8 supercar, first seen in 2006. Beginning with its show car predecessor, the LeMans concept from 2003, the R8 has become the face of the brand's design resurgence. And as a mid-engine two-seater with all-wheel drive (which can be had for about half the price of the Lamborghini Gallardo with which it shares its aluminum spaceframe), the Audi R8 is now one of the most accessible supercars you can buy.
File 2014 R8 design changes under "subtle"
When the new 2014 R8 V8 and R8 V10 lineup arrives in Canada next spring, you'll be hard pressed to notice the differences from a distance. Most of the changes wrought by Audi's quattro GmbH group (the in-house organization responsible for developing and building Audi's RS performance models and the R8, along with the automaker's factory racing machines) are about saving weight or making the R8 a better driver's car.
Externally, changes to the new R8 hardtop Coupe and cloth-top convertible Spyder have been kept to a minimum. Up front, the corners of the R8's signature "single frame" grille have been tapered at its corners. Out back, the rear air-diffuser — bracketed by large, round tailpipes — has been tweaked. Audi introduced full-LED headlights to the industry on the R8 four years ago, and the 2014 version gets an LED design for its taillights as well, including what Audi calls "dynamic" turn signals that run from the inside out to indicate the direction the car is turning.
Like a lot of automakers these days, Audi is looking at ways to remove weight from vehicles for better performance, driving dynamics and fuel economy.
While the R8 already uses an aluminum spaceframe body — which its maker says weighs just 210 kilograms, or about 40 per cent less than a comparable steel structure — Audi is using lightweight carbon fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP) pieces for the 2014 edition's front spoiler, vertical side blades, engine cover and some interior trim bits as well.
Equally subtle are the new 2014 R8's interior alterations. Chrome detailing has been added to many interior control and trim elements. The infotainment system has been brought up to contemporary connectivity standards, and the automatic gearbox's paddle shifters have been made larger for ease of use — like I said, subtle.
The "S" in S tronic must stand for "super"
Beyond the minor weight savings and styling tweaks, the "big" news for the 2014 R8 is its new automatic transmission. Replacing the unrefined six-speed R tronic automated manual transmission that originated from the R8's sister model, the Lamborghini Gallardo, the new seven-speed dual-clutch auto is optional on the R8 V8 (where a six-speed manual is still standard) and available at no extra cost on the R8 V10. Many supercar owners demand a stick, but objectively, the S tronic is the better 'box. Employing a new launch control feature, the S tronic makes all R8s quicker.
With its 4.2-litre eight-cylinder making 430 horsepower and 317 lb.-ft. of torque, the S tronic-equipped R8 V8 Coupe takes only 4.3 seconds to go from 0-100 km/h — 0.3 seconds swifter than the outgoing R tronic. The next-rung-up R8 V10 Coupe (with 525 hp and 391 lb.-ft. on tap from its 5.2 L 10-cylinder) scoots from rest to 100 km/h in only 3.6 seconds, and can go 14 km/h faster than the R8 V8's 300 km/h top speed.
And then there's the all-new R8 V10 Plus model. Effectively replacing the low-volume R8 V10 GT Coupe and Spyder, the new topline R8 (which hasn't yet been signed-off for Canada) offers 10 hp less than the outgoing GT, but the same 398 lb.-ft. rating. With the S tronic gearbox, Audi says it shaves one-tenth of a second off the "regular" V10 Coupe's 0-100 km/h time, now down to 3.5 seconds. Few R8 owners sweat over fuel bills, but Audi says the new S tronic betters the old R tronic in fuel economy too: on average, it's down 0.9 L/100 km, ranging from 12.4 L/100 km for the R8 V8 to 14.9 for the V10 Plus.